“I am bound by my own definition of criticism: a disinterested endeavor to learn and propagate the best that is known and thought in the world.” – Matthew Arnold
From a very early age, I’ve been fascinated by how the world works. Perhaps it’s no surprise – my family has a strong engineering culture, boasting aerospace, biomedical, electrical, and mechanical engineers over generations. Most of my middle school days were spent glued to a computer screen, reading the website HowStuffWorks. I would read just about anything, but some of my favorite topics were alternative energy and automotive technology. There was – is! – something thrilling about harnessing the laws of nature to the ends of man. As I began high school, I pursued my science and math education with ardor.
At some point, I stumbled across Milton Friedman’s name and jumped at the chance to read his immortal book Capitalism and Freedom, which had been lying around my grandfather’s house. Friedman’s eloquent discussion of the power of economics, for good or for ill, resonated with me and attracted me to the field. I went on to read thinkers from J.M. Keynes to F.A. Hayek, amassing a substantial library in the wake of my voracious consumption of economic literature.
As I approached college, I decided that I wanted to study Materials Science. It was complex, microanalytic, and interdisciplinary – everything I loved. I also enjoyed the thought of being in a position to enable the advances of just about every other field. Since materials’ properties depend on how they’re processed, I decided on a joint major in Chemical Engineering as well.
In my final year of high school, I began work at The Aerospace Corporation, assisting senior researchers characterize and develop battery materials for applications in aerospace. This gave me a firsthand view of industry and experience in scientific research, and while it was a great learning experience, it left me wanting to try something else.
About that time, I was reading moral and political philosophy on the side, and getting interested in writing myself. In my first year at Berkeley, I signed up as a writer for The California Patriot, a local Berkeley magazine, and within a year found myself the new Opinion Editor. Then, in 2009, Berkeley’s own Oliver Williamson was awarded the Nobel Prize. I reached out to him for an interview, where we discussed his work integrating microeconomic analysis, behavioral economics, and organization theory. His work seemed to be the social sciences’ counterpart to everything I loved about Materials Science. As our interview concluded, Professor Williamson revealed that he had also studied engineering as an undergraduate, and encouraged me to finish my degree in engineering, with an eye toward graduate school in economics.
That year, I applied for the Charles G. Koch Summer Fellowship, and spent the summer in Austin, Texas, researching public policy issues with the staff at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. It was a busy time – analysts were trying to make sense of countless laws and regulations. One group was simultaneously dealing with the EPA’s ruling against Texas’ Flexible Permitting emissions regulation regime, while also tracking new Federal policies toward domestic and offshore oil drilling in the wake of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Another was trying to understand how the 2010 health insurance reform act would affect Texas citizens and government.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court laid out two landmark decisions, McDonald v. Chicago and Citizens United v. FEC. McDonald was huge in its own right, holding that the Second Amendment protected an “individual” right, fundamental US government and society, and that it applied to State and local governments as well as the Federal government. Citizens United was also highly significant because it overturned significant restrictions on the freedom of individuals and associations to spend money on political campaigns. As a response, a number of US Senators and Representatives sponsored the DISCLOSE Act, which would have introduced other restrictions on political activity. I analyzed the DISCLOSE Act’s likely impact and presented my findings to a group of students, lawyers, and academics. No matter the topic, I found that there was always something to be immersed in, and relished it.
After finishing off my degree at Berkeley, I moved back to Austin to work on a doctorate in Economics.
A year later, I had the opportunity to teach research science at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology. Doing so gave me tremendous insight into Arabic culture and an awareness of Saudi policy concerns, especially regarding long-term economic development.